I’ve always thought of myself as a fairly skeptical person – after all, it’s my job as a researcher to treat things as having value only when that value can be proven (or reasonably deduced). So I was surprised at myself when I agreed to undergo a tarot reading recently; because abrogating my tendency towards self-analysis, in favour of what I would normally regard as an arbitrary pseudo-science, is not something that fits in with my desire to find logical, ‘correct’ answers to life’s problems.
I suppose, though, that acquiescence was understandable given my present emotional ups and downs. I’m sure you’ll agree that one of the most disconcerting things about hitting a crappy spot in life is the sense you get of lacking control over certain things – not only other people’s emotions and actions, but even your own to a certain extent. It’s an unsettling and frustrating proposition, when trying to fight off depression and anxiety, that no matter how hard you try to master your own mind, you’ll never be completely free from the besieging forces outside your mental castle. In response to this, you seek knowledge. Gaining knowledge of a difficult situation is the first step to overcoming it. The problem is, just because people and circumstances throw up questions doesn’t mean that they are obliged to provide answers. Trying to understand exactly why someone hurt you, or why circumstances aren’t different, can drive you mad; hence the desire to understand, and so control, your emotional response to a situation.
So, the tarot reading. I was asked to formulate questions which would then be put to the cards by the reader. Apparently it’s necessary to construct your questions in such a way that the reader can produce a detailed and insightful response based upon the cards drawn. The sceptic in me wondered if this might be to discourage complaints that the cards could not produce ‘answers’ in the concrete, logical sense (e.g. ‘Will I get rich?’ – ‘Yes, you will’). However, I decided to be open-minded and allow myself to get caught up in the spirit of the thing. I formulated two open-ended questions, one relating to my personal relationships and the other concerned with my career. Then I waited…
The reading unfolded, card by card, with each card pulled supposed to reflect upon a particular aspect of the situation addressed by the question – for example, ‘what has passed’, ‘your environment’ and ‘your hopes’. Each card in the tarot carries its own meaning, representing certain traits and concepts, which are then interpreted according to the order in which it is pulled out. In the context of my question relating to relationships, then, the penultimate card pulled was the Princess (or Page) of Swords. The penultimate card is supposed to reflect ‘hopes and fears’, and the symbolism of the Princess of Swords represents decisiveness, self-control and the ability to penetrate confusion. Taken together, this would hypothetically suggest that I fear being indecisive and lacking control in relationships, and hope to be able to overcome that and gain greater clarity on that kind of situation. And so on. Once the cards are pulled, the spread is analysed as a whole, and a reading is compiled based upon that.
My reaction to the detailed readings was neither ‘Begone, instrument of Satan!’ nor was it ‘OMG AMAAAAZING HOW DID YOU KNOW MY FAVOURITE NINJA TURTLE WAS DONATELLO?’ It was more along the lines of ‘Oh, well. This is interesting.’ The feedback was insightful enough to make me think again about the way I had been approaching some of my problems, without being so specific that I felt some kind of spooky psychic influence. I didn’t uncover some fact or nugget of knowledge that answers all my questions and allayed my fears, but on the other hand I did end up acknowledging a few things to myself that I had previously been reluctant to admit. Without wanting to go into the personal specifics, I began to realise that some of my woes were not as unexpected as I had felt them to be when they first hit, but rather the ‘warning signs’ had been there all along. The problems in relationships (both mine and those around me) were obvious, but I chose to ignore them. Likewise, the patterns of behaviour into which I had fallen, both academically and personally, had developed without my even realising that they were patterns.
I don’t really believe the central tenet of the tarot – or any other form of divination – which is that the cards/tea leaves/palm lines actually carry some kind of psychic energy that transmits a foretelling of future events. I do think, however, that the process of ‘divination’ (particularly with something as detailed as tarot) might have some kind of psychological impact. We can’t learn our future from cards, but perhaps we can get to know ourselves a bit better. Again, I don’t believe that this is some kind of mystic revelation powered by spirits (unless you mean gin). Rather, I think that the person who consults the tarot has made a choice to start asking questions, and to try and better understand the things that have happened to them. It’s that process of opening the mind, and of trying to re-establish some control over the emotions, that leads someone to find some resonance in a tarot reading. A good tarot reader probably infers a lot about the questioner from the questions that the latter chooses, and the way in which those are formulated. That sounds more cynical than it’s intended to – I’m not saying that it’s simply made up out of the ether. I think it’s possible, though, for the process of tarot reading to uncover psychological and emotional truths, without any kind of spiritual intervention. For someone like me, who likes to believe that the answers to most things can be found in books and essays, it’s hard to accept the element of arbitrariness in this. But emotions are not always logical or rational, which is why we try to understand the things that have hurt us long after they have done so.
P.S. Apparently I will find love with a Taurean man. Just throwing that out there…